Another client wrote in and wanted to know…“Should I apply ice or heat when I have an injury?”
Ice is the best immediate treatment for acute and chronic injuries. For acute injuries, ice reduces swelling and pain. It causes the blood vessels to narrow and limits internal bleeding at the site of the injury. Apply it in a thin towel, for comfort, to the affected area for 10 to 15 minutes at a time. Allow the skin temperature to return to normal before icing a second or third time. You can ice an acute injury several times a day for up to three days.
For chronic or overuse injuries (like for someone who has knee pain that persists after running), ice the injured area after each run to reduce or prevent inflammation. It’s not helpful to ice a chronic injury before exercise.
Heat is best for injuries that have no inflammation or swelling. Sore, stiff, nagging muscle or joint pain is ideal for heat therapy. You can also use heat as a treatment for chronic injuries. However, it must be applied before exercise to increase the elasticity of joint connective tissues and to stimulate blood flow. Heat will also help relax tight muscles or muscle spasms.
Heat increases circulation to the applied area and raises skin temperature. Therefore, you should not apply heat to acute injuries or injuries that show signs of inflammation. Apply heat to an injury 15 to 20 minutes at a time and use enough layers between your skin and the heating source to prevent burns.
Moist heat is best, so try using a hot wet towel. You can also buy special athletic hot packs or heating pads if you use heat therapy often. Never leave heating pads on for more than 20 minutes at a time or while sleeping!
Because some injuries can be serious, you should see your doctor if your injury does not improve (or gets worse) within 48 hours.